Team “6 Hours a Year”
Why has Jason Macalpine returned to Oz for the past two years solely to race the Transmoto 6-Hour? To fulfil his ‘six hours a year’ riding quota, it seems.
If you could only ride your dirt bike for six hours each year, how and where would you prioritise that time? After all, six hours of actual ride time isn’t as far-fetched as you think. Seriously, even in my racing years, I had seasons where I only put 14 hours on a bike.
Of course, we all want to ride more than six hours a year. And I think some of us might even trick ourselves into thinking we ride more than we actually do. But think about it. As we ‘grow up’ and get busier, finding time to put hours on your steel horse gets harder and harder. So, again, how would you spend your time on a bike if you only had six hours a year?
For the past two years, six hours is all I have managed to ride. Period! And in 2016 and 2017, I chose to use my six-hour racing quota at the Transmoto 6-Hour at the legendary Green Park, Conondale. And I’m willing to hazard a guess that many of the punters who come out to race this annual event in the Sunshine Coast’s picturesque hinterland are in a similar position.
But let’s back up a bit first…
I raced seriously from about age 15 to 20, which led me into job in the industry. I felt compelled to write about the sport I love for the motocross-only magazine called STROKE. I loved racing and riding so much that the thought of getting a regular job pained me, and all I wanted to do was get paid to ‘live’ motocross.
From there, I moved into the film side of things. And luckily, that has taken me all around the world; to places I never thought I would see, and with riders I had only ever dreamed of meeting. Telling a 15-year-old me that I would spend a week in Costa Rica drinking beers with Ricky Carmichael, or racing stand-up jet skis with Travis Pastrana, would have sounded plain crazy.
When your passion becomes your job, though, something happens. In my case, it did anyway. I did more in motocross than I ever thought I would, but slowly the desire to actually ride a bike all the time deserted me. It’s still a crucial part of my DNA, but I don’t have that same hunger for the act of riding. I have thought a lot about it, and I joke that once you’ve stood on a jump and watched Bubba drag his front brake lever up the up-ramp, you realise that what you were doing when you strap on your boots is not actually motocross.
Okay, I know that’s not a great rationale for not yearning to ride. Maybe it’s because times change. I once knew every rider on the start line, and had a passion for pushing the sport forward in Australia. The MX Nationals were the pinnacle of competition here in Oz, and supercross was still on Struggle Street. So I spent every minute of the day thinking about ways to get more exposure for our riders and events.
It just didn’t stick, though. My style of work never really found a home here. And a certain national motocross promoter in Australia even banned me from his events for not providing him with free content. So I shipped myself off to the USA in the hope that what I saw in my head for motocross on a film front would stick. I haven’t counted exactly, but in the seven years since, I would have only ridden a motorcycle 15 times. Maybe less.
Through it all, I remained pretty numb to actually riding a bike. There were a couple of times when I really wanted to ride, but even at places I had always dreamed of riding, nothing.
So, how does all this relate to the Transmoto 6-Hour? I guess it was my long-winded attempt to paint the picture of just how little I care to ride these days, and why it’s kind of a big deal that I’ve travelled from wherever I am in the world to race the event two years in a row. My brother, Matt, was the first to bring the Conondale 6-Hour event to my attention. For the 2016 6-Hour, Matt’s plan was to team up with Matty McFerran and Toby Price, while my family was heading up to camp for the weekend and be part of the event. Initially, I wasn’t thinking about racing, but I was definitely going to head up, pitch a tent and get in on the weekend’s festivities with the posse. Seeing as Matt – who’d done the Transmoto 12-Hour in the past – kept raving about how fun it was, I was tempted to race. And then when the call came from my mate, Cole Abbott, I relented and said, ‘F@#k it, let’s team up and just have a crack!’.
What made me say yes? Well, from what I have been told, this event is everything that other events in Australia aren’t. I’ve witnessed the pinnacle of motocross/supercross racing from behind the elite curtain, and after years of living in that world, I wish that I could go back to one of my first motocross races ever. In the early days, I raced my old 2001 CR125 on a grasstrack in north Queensland; on a track that my dad had raced on as a kid and told me stories about. There was a link between my dad and me in that dirt. He was the reason I got into motocross, and because of his love for the sport I have been able to live a crazy life of travel and adventure. There was a magic in those early racing days for me, and I haven’t been able to recreate that feeling at an event since. It always felt like a shame to me that I’d stopped riding, and that Dad and I had lost that connection. But the deeper I got into motocross, the further away I got from the reason I started in the sport.
So I was hoping the Conondale 6-Hour would help my dad, brother and I feel what I felt at the natural terrain events back in the day. I’d been to Conondale many times before, but when I drove in to this event, it was different. I only knew a handful of people in the pits, and I had a borrowed bike with a shot rear tyre. We set up camp, my mum made dinner like she always did at the races. I drank a few too many beers around the fire the night before, and woke up with sore abs from laughter at Toby Price stuffing jumbo marshmallows in his mouth for the sake of a bet.
I got up in the morning and climbed out of the single swag I shared with my girlfriend, Rikki, and put on some gear that I’d borrowed. This is what this event was all about to me. And it wasn’t until Cole came back from his first lap that it set in I actually had to race!
I’m not even sure that racing was what I was doing. Kinda like that James Stewart scrub thing all over again, I was rusty; rusty, to say the very least. Luckily, I had been mountain-biking a lot, but any rider knows that fitness and bike fitness are two very different things. I got better and better as the day wore on, and slowly any form of ‘bike skill’ that had been in hibernation started to roll out of its cave, like a bear in spring. I wouldn’t say that the bear ever really woke up, but he at least brewed a coffee and sat down to read the paper.
I won’t lie. I found my first Transmoto 6-Hour tough. The conditions were tough. I wasn’t in shape, and my hands went numb. After a couple of crashes on the opening lap, the reality of not riding in years set in. But after the first lap – when I finally did get back around to the pits – I was laughing in my helmet. Only minutes beforehand, I’d been swearing, but here I was, bro-slapping my dad and telling him how fun it was. And so the day went on; just like that until six hours had passed. Cole and I made it to the finish as a Pairs team. We were sporting some scrapes and bruises, but we had made it. There was such a rad feeling of accomplishment that came from crossing that line. Everyone in my small support crew were waiting at the finish line with a cold Great Northern ale for me, and Transmoto’s Andy Wigan gave me a smile as I took my helmet off and downed the thing.
Fast-forward 11-and-a-half months…
I hadn’t ridden a motocross bike since I stalled my bike just past the finish line at the 2016 6-Hour and drank that GN like it was the last one ever made. But I had bought a 1998 CR250 and I’d decided that my dad and I were going to bodge a welding job to fit its engine into a 2010 CRF450R that my brother had exploded while pre-running Finke – all with the goal of racing once again at the Transmoto 6-Hour. Just like the previous year, I knew I wasn’t in shape for the race, but it wasn’t about that. Strangely, the 2016 6-Hour felt like a tradition after just one year, and I wasn’t going to miss it again.
Dad and I had more than a few arguments about the Frankenstein CR/CRF project, and after welding the frame, the bike was still nowhere near ready. On the Saturday morning of the event, we’d pulled the power-valve apart and I was grinding shit off it so that it would actually open at the right RPM. So basically, we rolled up to the event knowing that I was probably going to get stuck out in the bush on the first lap with a bike that wouldn’t run. But I didn’t care. We had expanded team “6-Hours a Year” to a three-man outfit and none of us cared how we finished. Cole had only ridden once since the previous year’s race, and that was two weeks beforehand to ‘prepare’, and Cameron Palmer hadn’t thrown a leg over a bike since 2014. So what? We were there to chase that feeling of crossing the finish line and laughing at how silly it was to race for six hours with next to no prep.
Just as he did at the 2016 6-Hour, Cole went out first. I actually should mention that Cole is a damn good rider who grew up racing in NZ with all the big dogs and can hold his own on any track. He was our A-guy. I planned on going out second on the CR that we had managed to just get running as Cole got back around to our pit bay.
It turned out the fuel from our makeshift tank had leaked all over the spark plug overnight, which is why we couldn’t get the big girl started. So Cam jumped in and went out for his lap while we tried to fire the Honda up. After all the work we’d done to the CR/CRF, I just wanted to get one lap on the thing. Mentally, I had already been out of the course’s epic grasstrack section, and all I wanted to do was get her on the pipe.
Finally, we got it going, but as soon as I hit the singletrack, I realised I had the wrong bike to race six hours on. Zero testing, zero set-up. I felt like I was aboard an angry CR500 with broomsticks lodged in the fork tubes. Part of that was the bike itself, but more of it had to do with me. Just like the previous year, though, I came in laughing. In 2017, the grasstrack section came at the end of the lap, and banging gears on its straightaways was pure moto bliss. We went from thinking the CR wouldn’t make a lap, to taking turns flogging her around the track. And every time we came in, my dad would just shake his head in disbelief that she was still going.
I think we finished halfway down the field. But we didn’t care. The beer tasted better than it did the year before. Team 6 Hours a Year stood back together, beers in hand, looking at our Frankenbike and laughing at the fact she’d somehow made it the whole six hours. Cole had his RM-Z450 there, but we all took turns thrashing the CR.
And that right there is such a great metaphor for this event. The right tool for the job was sitting there, and if we were serious about ‘winning’ in the traditional sense of the word, we would have all ridden that Suzuki. But we weren’t interested in that kind of winning. We were into the kind of winning you get from surfing a single fin over a thruster; the kind of winning you get from simply entering. And the beauty of this event is that more people than not share that attitude.
To me, that’s what the Transmoto 6-Hour is all about. Honestly, you win when you enter. You’re winning when you’re laughing by the campfire. You’re winning when you’re a part of the vibe the event creates. And you’re a winner even when you lose. Maybe the race ‘scene’ has lost its way a little because at so many events, there’s only room for one winner. Which is cool and all. But it’s a heck of a lot more fun to be at an event where, just by showing up with your mates, you’re a winner.
To this day, the 2017 6-Hour is the only time my CR has been ridden. Maybe it’s fitting that she only does six hours of riding a year. Hopefully, she starts in 2018 on the Saturday morning of the event.
More on the Transmoto 6-Hour